Monday, November 30, 2009

Creativity in Action

A Confederacy of Women

If you walk up the stairs of the great old barn,
you enter the loft where the looms are stored.
The wood-planked space is filled with looms,
with spinning wheels, a room of women.

Some of the ancient looms resemble racks
to which someone could be strapped and
forced to tell the truth. Some are ready
with warp and weft to be woven into cloth.

Upon the spinning wheels you might expect
to see the women of fairy tales, spinning for
their lives or for malice of others. Prick
your finger and blood will rise up, so near

sigh the tales of women past. Though women
at this moment sit with spindles in their hands,
those who came before are present tangibly
in spirits of such strength, you may feel them

in the wood, the ancient wood hewn at the
dawn of time, or nearly. You may feel their pulses
faintly in the cells of wood worn comfortably
to fit the feminine form. Lean your forehead against

an upright of the oldest loom and close your eyes.
See them, all of them who went before, with
lean, strong fingers weaving, weaving, weaving
shrouds for babies, shrouds for men, shrouds

for mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, shrouds
long gone with the bones to dust. The women
bend slightly, firmly over the work of their
hands, weaving goods to fill their lives:

wedding gowns, diapers, menstrual cloths,
the sacred relics of womanhood, woven
on these looms like wombs sheltering the
confederacy of women still to come.

The weavers society in our rural neck of the woods hold their annual sale this time of year. You’ll find spun cloth, woven clothing, scarves of every color. You’ll find tapestries of artistic quality, and it is all held in a renovated barn. Last year I bought scarves woven of silk thread spun with fingers knarled with arthritis to give as gifts, and beautiful cloths in luscious colors. I bought myself two hats of hand-spun yarn, and I’m in love with them.

What struck me most profoundly was not the beauty of the weaving but the upstairs looms, spindles, spinning wheels, many so old their wood shone. One loom was made when Dolly Madison was lady of the White House, and used continually since. Its wood was dark with age and well worn by the backsides and hands of women long gone.

It marvels me that we return to crafts long performed by women down the ages. Some of the weavers were elderly, and many were my age and younger.

Poets have scribbled ink on papyrus and parchment through the millenniums for the compulsion to capture human experience. Artists have drawn in caves.

It seems the human family is compelled to create beauty, not just utilitarian tools. I take heart in this. There is an indomitable spirit in the human being. We’re not just warmongers and capitalists and listless souls. We are people of art and craftsmanship as well. Thank God.
Photo courtesy maidensmemoirs

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I Love You, I Swear I Do

Saturday’s Gratitude List:
I’m sober and I can feel the feelings I used to treat with mind-altering substances.
It is great to be myself.
It’s great to have a daughter named Milo, who was a good sport on Black Friday.
There were 109 years of sobriety sitting at the birthday table today, and eight newcomers.
My mom was a good mom.
Leftover pumpkin pie
I have a marvelous husband who cleaned up the dog puke on the couch today.

Thanksgiving is over and Black Friday must have made the retailers happy. There are leftovers in the fridge and I munch on homemade pumpkin pie as I write. I drink hot tea trying to fight off a cold.
The confluence of mother, daughter, granddaughter struck a chord with you yesterday, and today it’s on my mind again. Mama losing her mind, daughter trying to be Mama to Mama, but also be Mama to 23-year-old daughter.

On Black Friday, before it was called Black Friday, Mom and I used to go shopping for sales. Now it is my own daughter I take, and we have fun buying gifts for Christmas. I leave my Mom at her care home because she would be too confused by the madness, of which there is little, actually, in our small city.

Traditions are changing as my parents’ generation dies off, and my generation becomes the teachers. When I was younger, we used to sit up late at night making gifts for loved ones: sewing shirts, knitting afghans, even recovering book matches with shiny paper for Uncle Fred.
Now it’s buy, buy, buy, run up the credit cards, who cares? I watch my daughter carefully parcel out money on her debit card, and it makes me smile. Her frugal mother has taught her something!

I’ve had the great honor of reading my story and poems on our local NPR station this coming week, and today I learned I’ve had two poems accepted on Bolts of Silk’s poetry blog (it’s on my blog roll).

Mama is missing
(All the king’s horses, all the king’s men…)

Are you in there, Mama?
Inside the prison of your brain
where thoughts crumple
like a wrecked train?

I want to believe some part of you
still thrives, disguised as a
tiny old lady lost in a maze
of days that all run together.

In some corner of that drifting mind
is the blunt strong woman who
deliberated carefully and behaved
sensibly, no fact left behind.

She is bewildered now by
the world of commerce, mystified.
She worships oak trees and
old barns, the totems of her life.

The physical world sends her
into paroxysms of wonder.
A round rock makes her smile.
The sky makes her sing.

You take good care of me,
she says, not knowing how
I hate what she’s become.
I hug her filled with grief.

I miss our conversations.
I wish I’d known the last one
was the last one we would have
and I could remember it in detail.

This transition from mother
to child has flummoxed me.
I love you, I do, I swear I do,
but I wish you would come home.

Chris Alba © 2009
Photo courtesy

Friday, November 27, 2009

Strange Birthday Gift

I was flashing by at 55, keeping to the limit.
When the sirens flared, I pulled over in a minute.
His face was stern as he approached my car
And asked to see my license, brandishing his star
As he gave it back he doffed his hat and sniffed
Happy birthday, sweetie, a happy fifty-fifth.

To write your own Flash Fiction 55, go see Mr. Knowitall

Photo courtesy Hoover Dam Police Department

It was a fine Thanksgiving. I had some expectations, which failed, and some other expectations, which came to pass. But my main expectation, that I could create a new tradition for the day and enjoy it, was met in spades.
Instead of a big family feast, stressful and messy, Joe and I invited our youngest daughter Milo and her beau to dinner, with plans to snatch up my demented mom at dinnertime and get her back to her living quarters after pie.
I had dreams of Mother teaching Daughter the secrets of stuffing turkeys, and preparing side dishes so everything is ready and hot at once. Instead, Daughter slept in, missed the turkey stuffing lesson, and we bonded over catalogs while making Christmas lists. It was fun, and all the prep work happened in good time.
The other expectation, that my mom would be utterly confused by the whole thing, came to pass. I have to let go of my wishes that I can talk to her still, carry on a meaningful conversation. The best I can do is give her a change of scenery and some family time, even if she doesn't quite take it all in.
We had a fine, mellow feast followed by pumpkin pie and carrot cake, with football in the background and mother-daughter bonding in the kitchen, even if it was me bonding with my daughter and not my mom bonding with me. It's a grief thing, this losing of my mom a little at a time.
I don't think my daughter understands the ordeal of it all. She said I talk funny and act differently with my mom in tow. Joe says I do too. Mom has only one hearing aid and words are like a foreign language to her now, since she can't track a thought from start to finish. I have to treat her like a child in many ways because she needs the guidance. It isn't fun.
But it's life, and you live it one day at a time in the best way you can. I was thankful today for so many gifts, my beautiful daughter, her wonderful beau, my hard-working husband, the richness of our lives.
Daughter and I are headed out at 6 a.m. for the Black Friday crush. I expect it will be a blast.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Thoughts

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough, and more.
It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity.
It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events.
Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
—Author Melody Beattie

I was at an AA meeting yesterday when a man with 22 years of sobriety said he was sick of talking about the Thanksgiving holiday. The topic was gratitude. There were half a dozen newcomers in the room.
He wasn’t homeless. He had a dinner invitation for Thanksgiving Day. I was just dumbfounded.
The clubhouse where the meeting was held was offering marathon meetings and a Thanksgiving feast for all comers.
It’s not my place to sit in judgment of what people share in meetings, but I can sure wonder about their message.
A long time ago, my sponsor spoke from the podium about gratitude. Once upon a time, she said, a miracle worker healed ten lepers. He told them to run and show themselves to the priests to confirm that they were disease-free. It was a bad disease to have; it made you an outcast and a beggar.
Sure enough, the priest confirmed the lepers were no longer lepers, Of the ten who were healed, only one came back to tell the miracle worker thank you. The miracle worker heaped a double blessing on that leper, who was overjoyed by his freedom.
Her point was that we sit in rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, having been saved from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. Do we practice gratitude for our freedom? Do we remember to go the source of our healing and say thank you?
Do we remember, as we compile years of sobriety, to be grateful for those years? Do we leave the newcomer alone, thinking someone else will nab him or her and offer encouragement? Do we remember every day is a gift contingent on our relationship with our Creator, and we must freely give what we have so freely been given?
Gratitude is one of the most powerful tools in our spiritual tool bag. Do we get caught up in our opinions and our plans, and forget that we are in this lifeboat together, with all the joy of a drowning man who has been saved?

My gratitude list today is short.
God save me from taking my sobriety for granted. Thank you for this day, even if my expectations of it are not met, even if I feel sad for the loss of family members missing from the table.
Thank you that I’m sober and building a feast for a few to share, and that we have all we need today.
Thank you that I have a cold and it makes me really appreciate my good health.
Thank you for what you have given me, thank you for what you have taken away from me, and thank you for what you have left for me. It all makes me grow stronger in my faith.
May you all have a blessed day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What Do Tamales Have to Do with Marine Biology?

Yesterday Syd commented on my post something really stupendous that I want to share:

"Thanks for writing this. I am a marine scientist and have been 3 miles down in the ocean. My dissertation was on deep sea organisms. I appreciate the census of marine life and currently have a project that participates in this program. We know so little about our own planet. And we are slowly destroying it."

That's something worth thinking about. If you missed the post, here's a recap:

This week's news reports that marine biologists have recorded 17,650 species living in the ocean depths where the sunlight ceases. They are weird shaped and living on the snow-like decaying matter that drifts down from above.They hope to announce by the end of the ongoing census that a million or more species remain unknown, in addition to the 235,000 living in the extreme ocean depths, which they thought was a desert until this plethora of living things showed up. On land, they’ve catalogued 1.5 million types of plants and animals.

I was pretty stoked about that. We live in an awesome world.

And you are wondering what the heck tamales have to do with it all.
Well, the whole thing made me write a poem at nine o'clock last night, and here it is:
Tamales Rise Above the Depths of the Sea

While I ponder the news of over 17,000 new species
discovered in the ocean’s deep black depths,
the tamale guy rings the doorbell and his wife
waits in the car with tamale spice rising from her hands.

Ten dollars I will pay for six red chicken tamales
and on these we will feed for three days at least.
In the pitch-black depths of the sea, outlandish
creatures feed on snowflakes of decaying matter,
including bones of whales and methane gas.

At the point where sunlight ceases, life begins
for countless mystifying living beings.
The tamale guy couldn’t care less about oddities
living miles beneath the sea. He wants to sell
his wife’s tamales, piping hot and redolent of
chili. It matters not how life revolves around

the planet, when tamales are the nourishment
that keeps us humans ticking for another day.
A catalog of 1.5 million types of plants and beasts
are known to share the earth with us, with more

than a million mysterious living beings not known
in the uttermost depths of the black sea, a guess,
a conjugation of organisms unknown to man.
My hot tamales are the substance of known matter,
of chicken, of chili, of masa and corn leaves

which I eat with tremendous relish in my home
where light blooms in the darkness, and the living
beings are simple dogs and simple cats, one loving
husband, and a planet where the sun will rise
tomorrow morning, on the lush landscape
where I live.
Chris Alba © 2009
Photo of Enypniastes courtesty of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Colossal Fossil Bugs

Colossal Fossil Bug Discovered

Scientists have found a claw
belonging to a scorpion eight feet long
if it were intact

The biggest bug ever! exclaims the newspaper
exhilarated by the find
as momentarily am I, a Scorpio

more so, maybe, than a Leo or an Aries
who could give a rat’s ass for scorpions
even if they are eight feet long

I am shocked too upon considering
that horror movie makers may be the visionaries
of the world—imagine, omigod

Why only a claw? Where is the rest
of the scorpion, and is it in another rock
longing for its warrior self

wrenched from it how? in battle or love
or a simple stupid accident when it was fishing
for a morsel it could have done without

But its hard-to-fathom age—
400 million years, say the paleontologists
with miraculous certainty

is what really gives me pause to wonder
how the hell do they know

Today’s news reports that marine biologists have recorded 17,650 species living in the ocean depths where the sunlight ceases. They are weird shaped and living on the snow-like decaying matter that drifts down from above.

They hope to announce by the end of the ongoing census that a million or more species remain unknown, in addition to the 235,000 living in the extreme ocean depths, which they thought was a desert until this plethora of living things showed up. On land, they’ve catalogued 1.5 million types of plants and animals.

It costs $50,000 a day to operate the equipment. What’s the daily cost of the war?

I don’t know why this fascinates me so much. It’s not going to change my life. But I like the idea of people searching for our fellow creatures, and the great myriad life forms make me thankful to live on planet Earth.

My gratitude list today:
Scientists who ask questions and seek answers.
Colossal fossil bugs.
Sobriety, which makes me marvel at life.
That God put me on planet Earth and not the moon.
That recovery has brought me to a Higher Power who knows all.
That we have brains, and God helps us use them.
That I can read.
That I can write.
That I don’t have to drink today to get all jazzed up about life.
Happy Thanksgiving.
The photos are from

Monday, November 23, 2009

Contrails of Love


You shoot across the blue sky like an arrow
with a shining point, oblivious to me,
yet I know we exist together in this plane.
You know only your cocktail, your thoughts,
the surface of the world.

I am familiar with the feeling of distance between us:
I’ve seen you before like this,
taking flight and vanishing.
All this evidence of your passage
makes me feel wanton,
as if I should hurl myself after you—
arms outstretched to bridge this great gulf
between us.

We get a lot of contrails in the sky overhead where we live. One day I was pedaling my stationary bike and watching a jet shoot across the sky, and I realized there were people up there with no idea I was down below, pedaling my bike. I turned it into a love poem because I like poems about conflicts between people.

After a couple of days of serious thought, I wanted to get into fantasy and silliness. I’m making up my Thanksgiving shopping list and smiling over the small gathering that will come to my home for the turkey dinner. I usually feel lonely at Thanksgiving since my sister-in-law died, she who was my partner in cooking. But this year I am stretching out my wings to fly ( pardon the bad turkey pun).

So happy days preceding the great day of Thanksgiving to you all, and next time you see a contrail, reach out your arms to embrace the poor oblivious people aboard, traveling to God knows where.
Cheers, Chris

The photos are not by me but by Wickipedia and Vormedia.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tribute to Rumi

Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances. That’s not
for human beings.
Move within, but don’t move the way fear makes
you move.
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

I can’t believe that more a thousand centuries ago a poet named Rumi could think such thoughts in his day and age.

I found this poem and set it in a nice font and framed it for my wall. I love every bit of it. “Today we wake up empty and frightened…” I don’t know about you but there are days when I don’t relish what might come down the pike at me, and I’m empty until I refill my prayer tank. And I try to no longer to let fear rule me.

“Let the beauty we love be what we do.” That sounds simple enough, kind of like “Be the change you want to see in the world.” But the beauty I love is in the world around me, in landscapes, in people, in beagles and kittens, and my question is: How do I DO that? I want to believe that the beauty I love the most is this: one human being connecting with another human being, and THIS I can do.

When you’re frightened, Rumi says, don’t go to your hideaway and read a book. Create something. Communicate with the air, the notes, the music of living.

And my favorite: “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” The idea that I can pay homage to the Creator in hundreds of ways pleases me. I love my homeland, I love my life, I love my family—there are hundreds of ways to show honor to them.

I dearly love this poem. It seems a fitting way to start my Sunday. God bless you all.
Chris Alba

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Killing My Cat

This perfect morning
with sunlight turning leaves
into green stained glass
and with dew trembling
on the grass

brings with it thoughts
of a downed redwood
riding an ocean
of moss and a tall mast
rising from it

the new tree is slender
an idea not yet formed
but it rises in the dusk
from the belly of the boat
in the pure silence
of the forest

and my old cat
on this green morning
trembles like a gray leaf
on a twig caught
in that final moment
before it flutters to the
forest floor.

It is a kindness
to gather her in my arms
for the last loving
terrible thing
but nonetheless
tears seep like rain
in the forest


I read in Syd's blog of his attempts to find something his old friend will eat, and it made me think of my old Asher cat. She grew thinner and thinner, unable to hold anything down even if it appealed to her to eat it.

That final morning, when I had made the decision to take her in for our last journey together, she sat on the couch and watched the outdoors. She was wobbly and thin, dehydrated, but still interested in the outdoors. It broke my heart to gather her up and go to the vet's.

And as things happen in God's world, within days my aunt had found four abandoned young kittens, which she nursed by bottle until they could lap. With my heart heavy, I visited the kittens and said I would think about it.

Three weeks later, I brought home the two female kittens, Katie Cat and Mystery. They've been a source of much laughter these past few months as they get used to the beagles and life here in the household.

One door closes and another opens. I'm grateful that life goes on, with beauty and joy in it, despite the tears and sorrows that weigh on us.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Flash Fiction 55

Living Large

She went to Victoria’s Secret
Browsed the aisles for a surprise
For her hubby, waiting at home
But they said they didn’t have her size.
All she wanted was a wisp of a thing
Something to make his eyes open wide.
But the wisps were for wisps
And not for a womanly bride.

If you want to play, go see Mr. Knowitall.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chronology of a Crone

Today has been my special day since I first learned it was my birthday. I thank God for the gifts in my life. I honor myself for the wisdom I have attained, and the growth I have before me. I have gorgeous red and purple-tiger roses blooming for this special day in November. I also had the most monster sycamore leaf drop into the birdbath and I'll treat you to that.
I’ll offer you to a poem about my life.

Chronology of a Crone

The woman—
who hides her gray hair under a blond rinse
—is not aged.

In her lives the young girl laughing in 1963,
when she was all of nine, before the bloody pink suit.
In her is the teen with solemn eyes. Alive and well in her
is the young woman in black robes and mortarboard,
smiling wide with a degree of joy she earned herself,
In her, the bride with wide hopes.
In her too, the mother with child.

A parade of photographs marches around the bed,
telling the story of her long life. This gift
from her mother captures the deep, sweet roots
that ground her in the earth of herself.

The passage of time has smoothed her rough edges,
leaving behind the tracks of the years in her eyes.
You are a crone now, says her masseuse, kneading
the network of aches that lives in her shoulders.
You are the wisewoman who has found the answers
she sought. Lord knows where the diploma is.
The marriage is over, but the hopes remain.

The woman—
who has grown strong, and weathered many storms
—still dances.
She hears the music of the seasons
and she raises her arms high above her golden head.
God bless your day, my beautiful people in the blogosphere.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I Am Stone Cold Sober

I Am Stone Cold Sober

Take from the sea its seasoned stones
scattered along the tide’s edge
Take from the sea its seasoned wood
drifting along the tide’s edge

Lug them great distances from beach to car
and arrive at home bearing sweet gifts
from the seasoned sea, remembering
everything came to you and clambered
into your hand or begged at your foot
to be granted a second life at your hands.

So many songs around stones and stoned
and being stoned, and one story about a man
who said the first stone should be thrown
by a person who had never sinned.

In the lore of the old ones stones call to you
and all of these have called to me, clamored
to come into my garden and live among
the others heaped around my work bench.

And three or four or five or six want me,
cry to me to be placed together in one singing
work of my hands. Then we must find
the beads to dress the stones, and the wood

from which they all will fall like stony
chandeliers. Other stones, unchosen,
watch quietly as the process begins,
the lengths of copper wire pulled, then marked
then beaded and finally the crying stones

begin their slow ascent to their driftwood
head through the spiderweb of weavery.
From the sea to the soaring is a long
afternoon, and one can listen to their singing
only for a stone’s throw of time.

I make these “earrings for the garden” and sell them at wineries sometimes, but mostly they decorate my garden and my home. I dislike selling them because each one is created differently, and I worry it won’t be cared for properly, will be thrown in a trunk of someone’s car like a cheaply soldered piece from China. My garden earrings are fragile and need to be treated with the respect for something held together by magic and willpower.
Needless to say, I don’t sell many any more.
The iron sphere in the garden contains a stone from Sedona, Arizona, suspended with great equilibrium from its center. One of the others I call the Tau. The alternating light and dark one I call Hope, and the small double one is my Beach Scene.
I started working with stones when I sobered up again after drinking in 2006. In rehab, I found some obsidian, pumice, beads, feathers, and copper wire, as well as oak branches to suspend them from.
They hang from a wall in the hallway that I call my Sober Wall. I can’t walk past it without smiling for the hours of pleasure they gave me, and the new art they inspired.
I didn’t take any photos of the ones hanging outside because the garden has grown so weatherbeaten. Picture these hanging from a shepherd’s hook, and you can get the idea.
A sober craft brought to you by Enchanted Oak.

Chris Alba © 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009



The morning after the great storm
as broken branches litter the battlefield of lawn

a titmouse finds the birdbath
brimming with stormwater

and all sorrows cease
as it bathes.

Chris Alba © 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

Watch Out For the Sword!

When I was three, I owned a sword made of paper. The paper was wrapped around a stick, and when you thrust the stick at someone, the sword came alive with a slithery sound. It hurled out of its hiding place, and it seemed it could reach across the room.
It was made in China and it cost a dollar. I didn’t have a dollar, but my mama did and she bought that sword for me.
With that sword, I attacked the big people in my life. There was my aunt, taking the pictures with her camera. There was my mother, cowering before the sword. There was my grandfather, running away from me and my mighty sword. There were dogs that ran from me.
In the bedroom was the travel DVD player, playing that new movie “Green Eggs and Ham” but I couldn’t care less. I was a warrior with my paper sword. Let me at the big people; let me whack them with my magic sword and make them smaller and less powerful than me.
Oh, it made me laugh to attack with that paper sword. I got the giggles so bad, I almost wet my britches. People hid around corners from me. I made my last stand on the sofa in the sunroom.
My aunt, the photographer, didn’t flinch when I zoomed her with my sword. The dogs ran away, and my grandfather stayed away too. Mama flinched in the corner like a scaredy bird. I won them all, those big people. My paper sword was mightier than all of them.
A story written by Jacob at the age of three, with help from his great-aunt Chris, who is grateful to have him and his mama, Allison, god-daughter and niece, staying at our house, where paper swords rule the day.
Thank God for the simple joys of childhood.

For Jacob

My boy is a sprite, stiff-legged in flight;
in search of a toy, he weaves left and right
smiling a smile chock full of sweet guile.
Without even trying, his actions beguile.

I chase him to save his small body from harm.
I race him and snatch him up in my arms.
He wiggles and squiggles and tries to get down:
He’s fluid with motion, brimming with sound.

I’m tired and wish he’d be still but he won’t.
He loves sticks and stones and really I don’t.
I offer a book or an educational toy,
But he wants my good crystal, my contrary boy.

Every day is discovery for this little man.
The richest of treasures he holds in his hand.
So simple his needs but baffling too.
No matter what happens, each moment is new.

Chris Alba © 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

On the trail of the Black Phoebe

The great thing separating us humans from dogs and Zunes is our quest for understanding.
I haven’t researched that, but I have three dogs and a young adult daughter, so the empirical evidence points that way.
I’ve also read all the stories appearing in newspapers about rats, mice, and staying young through puzzling out things, or at least engaging in challenging games like pinochle and curling.
I personally have never curled anything (except, long ago, my hair), but I have played pinochle, and if anything will curl your hair, a rousing game of pinochle will do it. No matter how many trump I held, my father could take my tricks because he was simply better at it than I. My dogs, I point out here, cannot play pinochle, which is a shame because I believe I would win.
At any rate, I’m qualified as a parent, dog owner, and college graduate to speak about the human intellect and curiosity as a means of discovering the world around us. Teenagers are proof that curiosity is what separates humans from Ipods. Those devices can absorb lots of information and they require a certain intelligence to use, but they also are dumber than rocks without a human.
A bird began to visit the garden some time ago, and I asked, “What kind of bird is that?” At the time, my daughter was too busy downloading ring tones to answer, and to this day she couldn’t tell you why on earth it matters to me what kind of bird it is. She also can’t play pinochle.
I cruised the Internet and my 1960s era bird guides looking for information about this bird. I am dogged about things that capture my curiosity, as are my dogs when their highly evolved noses tell them: A squirrel was here! I am much more intelligent than they are, because my beagles will bay at the same sycamore tree for hours after a squirrel has moved on to the pine and is laughing its head off at the stupid dogs.
I am smarter than your average beagle because if I hit a dead end, I go at it from another angle. I found the website for our area Audubon Society, and sent a photo of the bird with a query to a local professor I found listed there, whose name is Mike.
“The bird in question is a black phoebe,” he replied to my email.
I protested, in response, that my bird resembled not at all the black phoebes pictured in my ancient bird guides.
Mike advised me to invest in better bird guides, and he sent along a few web links to black phoebes, which proved beyond a doubt that my visitor was in fact one of those.
Because curiosity is what separates me from iPods, Zunes, and dogs, I replied with questions about black phoebes: Are they plentiful? Why have I never seen this bird in my garden before? Why did the bird follow me and my beagle on a walk one Saturday morning?
“Black phoebes are common in this county,” he said. “Where you live, they would be more common along creek beds or bodies of water.”
Notice Mike didn’t respond to my question about the black phoebe going on a walk with my beagle and I.
That made me wonder: Does Mike have a dog that plays pinochle? Could his dog beat me out of tricks even if I held a lot of trump?
Hmmm. Something more to sniff out. My brain is quivering to know.
To find out more than you ever wanted to know about Black Phoebes:
Photo by George Jameson

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Will Work for Dirt

The homeless man down on the corner
carries a sign that says I’m on the road
and hungry—will work for food
and while he can say love
in 14 different languages
passersby carefully don’t meet his eye
except my mother when we stop
at the light She says here’s a dollar
it’s all I have and when we drive away
she says My father gave up his violin
for some land and a mule to plow it
with and then I understand
we all of us dream for earth
that we can call our own
except that homeless man
and he is excellent at saying

I've worked on an article about gratitude this month for a local magazine, and I thought the photo of the "hens and chickens" was apt since they freely multiply, just like a gift given in the spirit of love.
"The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings." That was said by philosopher and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Eric Hoffer.
The sun is rising over the horizon and shining in my eyes. Some of my blessings today are that I'm sober and thankful for this room I call my own, for my fat beagles and two kittens, and some earth to call my own, even if the bank owns it really, it is mine to plant and plow.
I'm excited that a friend of mine who drank again wants me to sponsor her, because I hear surrender in her voice.
Yesterday's Twenty-Four Hour a Day book had a meditation that touched me:
"In our time of meditation, we again seem to hear: 'Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' Again and again we seem to hear God saying this to us. 'Come unto Me' for the solution of every problem, for the overcoming of every temptation, for the calming of every fear, for all our need, physical, mental, or spiritual, but mostly 'come unto Me' for the strength we need to live with peace of mind and the power to be useful and effective."

Chris Alba © 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

Something Is Circling My Head

He said the jet stream is a tubular ribbon
of wind blowing 100 miles per hour
maybe five or six miles over my head,
and I wondered, is that why I hear
that buzzing in my ear when I think
of the black mustache under your
nose which resembles an Apache’s?

He said a cold front is a wave of energy
sweeping away from the core of the storm,
and I felt a white-hot wave of energy
sweep away from the core of my loins
as your black mustache smiles there,
and this I remembered as he said core
and wave and sweep and storm.

He said the jet stream flows like a giant
wave undulating from west to east
for thousands of miles, and I marveled
that my head could contain it all,
the knowledge of your mustache
and your nose like an eagle’s beak,
his speech a buzzing in my ear
and the jet stream of life circling
over my head and under my toes.
Chris Alba (c) 2009

Flash 55 Friday

The gray hair under his arm pits were not the worse of it.
neither were the long nose hairs or toe nails grown like talons
Thank God the rocker is always where he puts it, for his old butt knows
where to land. The worst of it was the tissue paper trailing from his pants.

Go see Mr. Knowitall to play.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Honest Scrap Award

Brian at has gifted me with the "Honest Scrap Award," which apparently is a compliment and one I will take seriously. There are rules to follow when in receipt of this award.

Tell 10 honest things about myself.

Pick 10 honest bloggers to pass it on to.

Tell who gave me the award in the first place.

10 random honest things about me:

1. I have the first college degree in my family.

2. In my 20s and 30s I worked for both Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynn--in the editorial department, not the photographic side. I made the porn sound good.

3. I am trying really hard to say I am a poet when asked what I do.

4. I relinquished a daughter for adoption and have since reunited with her.

5. I like to clean house to loud music, especially Talking Heads and Bob Seger.

6. I have won sweepstakes awards and Best of Shows for my flowers and floral design work.

7. My daughter Milo soon to be 24, makes my heart melt with love.

8. I am what's known as a "PILER" meaning I place things in piles around my space, rather than a PUTTER AWAY, which is what my husband is. We stay married because our flaws cancel each other out.

9. I once saw a meteor strike the earth, and NASA called me about it.

10. I love Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and PB&Js.

Now I have to pass this Honest Scrap Award on:
to Annie at
to Susan at
to JeNN at
to Tabitha at
and to Tall Kay at

Okay, that 's all I think about tonight. My brain is full of a good day.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ode to a Banana

Ode to a Banana

Oh, dear banana, my lovely fruit
you’re portable and mightily neat
all dressed up in your yellow suit
ready for peeling, ready to eat
not sour or sticky, but politely sweet.

I like you all yellow, not a bit brown
not mushy but rather firm to the taste
Of all the fruits you take the crown
Except for the peel, nothing is waste
For bread I can whip you into a paste

A package to eat when time’s of the essence
No smudging on fingers, no gooey juice
I especially like your yellow tumescence
The aroma of banana is sweetly profuse
A sexual structure if one were so loose.

My dearest banana, my lovely fruit
all dressed up in your yellow suit
with one in my pocket I have some loot
and breakfast or lunch or a snack to boot.

Happy Wednesday from Chris

Monday, November 9, 2009

At Least I’m Not Sick


oh your smiling face
zzzts like a spear
into my chest
strikes my heart
stretches it
wide as a smile
I feel it
in my toes

I’m on deadline for a local magazine piece on the broad topic of gratitude. Instead of writing it, I’m here blogging.
I Googled the word “gratitude” and the search engine came back with 25,800,000 hits.
That was fun, wading through that.
For more fun I Googled the phrase “gratitude quotes” and got a manageable 1.5 million hits.
Here’s one:
“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.”
I interviewed a local pastor who went on a mission trip to India this summer.
“The problem I see in our country,” he said, “is that thanksgiving is kind of an intellectual exercise. It doesn’t hit my heart until I put myself into an area where there is need, and I see there are people just like me who don’t have the blessings I have. Gratitude reaches my heart then, being in the trenches. I have nothing to complain about now.”
I’m grateful today that I get to write about gratitude, which means I’m thinking about it a lot and pondering my own attitude to see where I fall short. I’ve learned a little, I’m not sick, like Buddha said, and so I am thankful.

Chris Alba © 2009

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Blooming in the Gloom


One wakens to find an autumnal gloom
has lowered the boom on summer.
The bright yellow days segue to grays,
and the loins that ran rampant grow still
Yes, autumn is crisp with colors in the mist,
with apples and pumpkins galore, but still –
And not the least of all are the colors of fall
and the riotous joy in the trees. But please
let the haze drift away and the sun
warm this day, and don’t let the winter
come soon. For one’s bones are brittle
and they ache a little, and one’s brain
doesn’t bloom in the gloom.

I wrote the Equinox poem last year, when we actually had autumnal gloom in September. Now it's November and each day has dawned sunny, clear and cool. I'm thinking of all of you who have spoken of the fallen leaves and the gathering mist of autumn, and this poem is dedicated to you.

The photos are of the forest at Patrick's Point on the far northern reaches of California. Even in that foggy place, brilliance grew.

I've learned this autumn that one's brain can indeed bloom in the gloom, if one's heart has courage and one's eyes are open to possibilities.

When I was hospitalized, I thought I would never find my way out of the black tunnel of despair. Then I met people worse off than myself, people in deeper miseries than mine, and with them I took a look at my various troubles. I remembered something I heard in a meeting:

If we put our lives, woes and all, in a paper sack and placed it on a table beside everyone else's sacks of troubles, we would gladly claim our own sack again.

Chris Alba © 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

How the Pervert Saved Her Life

Tonya was my best friend, and she died last year of the seventh cancer that finally killed her. Tough, tall, take no shit, she was a powerhouse of a woman.

Before she died, she told me this story. In the years before she found sobriety, she lived a wild life, and this is one of those unforgettable scenes from the insanity.

How the Pervert Saved Her Life

The Pontiac Le Mans was lean and low and she sang
swing low sweet chariot as she drove
to her self-appointed date with death.
In the dead of night, in a halo of lights around a bar,
a hitchhiker waited, odiously dressed
in overcoat and hat. She screeched to a halt,
threw open the door and said get in,
take a long last ride in my Le Mans.
He got in, misreading her intent.
She tore out of there, fishtailing.
There was no moon in the mountains.
The road was a tunnel writhing like a snake
and she sang swing low, my sweet chariot
thinking of the river, the swift, mean river
hidden in the darkness below the road,
and the Le Mans carrying her home to it.
She dreamed he slid his hand between her white thighs
and she screamed in outrage you pervert!
You sonofabitch! I’m out to kill myself, and now
I’m taking you with me! He cowered in his overcoat,
clinging to the door, as she swung the wheel
of the mighty Le Mans to and fro across the road
scraping the car with roadside shrubs.
You crazy bitch let me out, he hollered at her
but she hurled her fist into his face, connecting
with his nose. He sobbed out loud. He spit blood.
She laughed. The river was coming for to carry
her home, and he, the man with the wandering hand,
would see that she didn’t go alone.
Then please he said, soft as a lover, soft as a kitten,
and something broke in her, some wild and keening
sound fell silent, interrupted. Startled,
she pulled over, turned off the car. The Le Mans
fell silent. The black mountain above them
was silent. Below, the river swept on.
He flew from the car, slammed the door,
and vanished in the dark. She sat dumbfounded,
strangely happy the Le Mans was safe.
Carry me home, she said, and turned the key.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Friday Flash 55

Go see MrKnowItAll on my blog links if you want to play around with a story in 55 words exactly. Here's my earthy addition to this week's game, posted a little early for those early risers on the East Coast.

When a Dandelion Is Not a Weed

I’ve moaned and groaned about the weeds in my garden
Growing wilder and stronger from my neglect,
Yet in truth, when the light is right, what is a weed
But a wildflower in the domicile where it is unwanted
And even dandelions are beautiful, when my vision's right

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Conquering Fear

I Fear the Back Garden

It’s a jungle out there
dahlias rioting and dying
sunflowers machine-gunning
their seeds like bullets
dog shit and snails
weeds like explosions
bursting out of the soil

I’m afraid to go out there
and I’m on five
brain chemicals trying
to reach stasis after
the downward slide

I need a machete
of the mind or a real
one to wipe out
the enemy, but
the enemy is irrational
and never where
I thought she was,
never who I thought
she was and it turns
out I am not the enemy

Fear is the enemy
and there is no drug
to wipe out fear
You must go
into the jungle
if you want to reach
the other side

We’re experiencing an Indian summer, with nights in the 40s and days in the 80s. I don’t remember having dahlias blooming in November before. I walked around and took pictures of some to share on my blog today.

It was a victory to do that. I had developed an irrational fear of going to the back garden, afraid to see all the work that needed doing. I didn’t go back there for seven days after my hiatus at the hospital. FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. Once I tackled it, it wasn’t so bad.

So I’m grateful today for these flowers, which I can cut and put in vases all over the house just to see their cheery faces.
I’m grateful that I’m present today and courageous enough to enjoy these moments.
I’m grateful that I feel so good and the time in the psychiatric hospital helped.
I’m grateful for digital cameras. They give instant gratification.
I’m grateful for my great husband, who just washed my car for me.
I’m grateful for stumbling into blogland and finding you people here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Praying Mantis, Yellow Rose

November Roses
Dedicated to Rosaria (lakeviewer at sixtyfivewhatnow)

November roses
summer warmth easing
through their veins
raise their new growth
where the setting sun
and rising moon
bookend the day.

Blood red
butter yellow
petals unfurling
like fingers on a fist
lifted skyward

Big as a hand
roses rise
in the warm sun
November frost
long forgotten
in the headlong
rush to beauty

If you were able to look closely at the bottom of the rose, you would see a female praying mantis who is ready to mate and leave her eggs on the roses. I'll have to be careful with this rose when I prune them back this winter, keeping my eyes sharp for that egg sac so I don't prune it and send it to the green waste. Oh, inconvenient little critter! Wish you were living in the lilac. But thanks for the visit anyway!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday Morning, Thank God

I'm at the keyboard before sun-up, already thinking about the 9 a.m. business meeting of my home group. The group is a women's Big Book study.

It may well be a contentious meeting, rife with little confrontations between members. There are some young AAs who want to "straighten us out" because we're not doing something right.
Last month's meeting was really rambunctious. Young AAs who hate confrontation got nervous and upset. Others are very vocal and opinionated. Thank God for the old-timers who sat quietly and spoke reasonably, setting the meeting back on track.

I've been in AA since 1990, and most business meetings follow the same sort of pattern. What I really enjoy about them is watching the process of a loving God expressing Himself in our group conscience.

No matter how much rabble-rousing individual members may create, the group conscience takes precedence. Sanity and love really does govern the group, thanks to those members who continually remind us of our primary purpose.

I don't like to see young AAs upset, so I've made it my job to reassure and encourage. The clash of opinions just reflects our individuality and our imperfections. This is the nature of a group of drunks. But we have an ultimate authority and traditions to keep us in check, and no single person's opinion governs us.

This Big Book Study has grown over the years from eight to 20 women, and it's a haven for several newcomers who are racking up sober time...90 days, six months, nine months, a year.

It's been a blessing to all of us, a safe place to get real and unburden our hearts. No clamorous business meeting changes that truth.

So this morning, I'm grateful for:

* Old-timers who faithfully attend meetings and lend their experience, strength and hope to all of us.

* God as we understand Him, expressing Himself in our group conscience.

* Mild Monday morning temperatures, so my hands aren't like ice as I work at my desk.

* The sun peeking over the horizon and shining in my eyes.

* The power of living in the present, being present right now, acting on purpose instead of on instincts gone awry.

* A good cup of coffee in the morning.

* A hot shower in my own private bathroom.

* The wealth of sobriety.

* The person who told me, "Yesterday's history, tomorrow's a mystery, and today is a gift; that's why we call it the present."

Albert Einstein Quotes